Saturday, January 13, 2018

1/13/2018: Bad blood

Toxic Zombies aka Bloodeaters (Charles McCrann, 1980)
This month, I'll be talking about two regional low-budget horror indies with the word "blood" in the title that are both 90 minutes long, amateurish but charming, a little poorly paced, and an unusual spin on familiar horror subjects. First up is a rural Pennsylvania twist on the zombie movie from Pittsburgh filmmaker Charles McCrann. Deep inside a hard-to-reach area of federally protected wilderness, a group of marijuana growers are camped out and almost done harvesting their crop when they're surprised by two DEA agents. The agents kill one of the pot growers, but the growers gain the upper hand and shoot and kill both agents. The agents' disappearance brings a fed to the office of the head of the parks department, who is convinced to spray the area with chemicals in an effort to lure the growers out of hiding. The growers get covered in the stuff, which turns them into murderous zombies. Cue much outdoors zombie mayhem. The film drags in the second half, but there are moments of suspense, humor, and fun, and I have a lot of affection for regional independent filmmaking even when the results are dicey.
Director McCrann was a career-motivated guy who graduated from Princeton and Yale and spent most of his life working in finance, but he was also a film buff and horror fanatic who wanted to make a movie, so, at the age of 34, he got his buddies together and did it. Influenced by George Romero, McCrann used Romero regular John Amplas in a supporting role, and his and his friends' labor of love ended up finding distribution on the drive-in and grindhouse circuits. McCrann never made another film. He eventually became senior vice president of a large financial services conglomerate in New York City and was tragically killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack while working in his office at the World Trade Center.

Blood Cult (Christopher Lewis, 1985)
Our next regional indie was filmed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, using local theater actors, but director Lewis had connections to Hollywood. The son of Hollywood actor Loretta Young, Lewis grew up in Los Angeles, went to USC film school, and is the nephew of Ricardo Montalban and the older brother of a founding member of Moby Grape. Weird. He worked as a screenwriter of TV movies, a disc jockey, and a news anchorman, the latter job bringing him to Tulsa, where he started a video production company with his wife Linda. They marketed this production as the first horror movie to be shot on Betamax video and intended for the straight-to-video market, which isn't true, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they believed it. No matter the claim, the film has a weird documentary/home movie look that made me feel like I was spying on real people. The story of a series of murders at sorority houses on a small college campus, Blood Cult begins as a slasher film before turning into a police procedural about Satanic cults. Like Bloodeaters, the pacing drags in the second half, the ending is a bit confusing, the acting ranges from good to atrocious, and the low-budget regional feel has a lot of charm. I can't wholly recommend this movie, but it holds a certain curiosity for fans of '80s horror, shot-on-video films, or regional indies.

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